Bowmen of Cheshire

As the year closes, I'm getting things done to the blog that I've meant to for some time and moving some of the writings about local themes that feature on our old website over on to this one.  The idea was to have a range of simple articles that would answer some of the regular questions we get asked when we are at events, or by email.  So, here's the first one which looks at the renowned Cheshire Archers.

The bowmen of Cheshire are often renowned as the best, and most notorious, archers of medieval England. The powerful longbow had become the most important weapon in the many wars of the 14th and 15th centuries. The men of Cheshire had developed their skills further than many other Englishmen, perhaps because of the closeness to Wales and the frequent conflicts requiring Cheshiremen to keep well practiced with shooting their bows.

The Cheshire archers were paid more than bowmen from elsewhere and had been recruited as the royal bodyguard by 1334. They could be recognised by their green and white livery which was issued to them by the chamberlain of Chester castle. They were taken into France by Edward III, and later the Black Prince, and played important roles in the English victories at the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Poitiers in 1356.

The earliest extant military leave pass was issued in 1355 to William Jauderel, (Jodrell), one of the Cheshire Archers. Translated it reads, Know all that we, the Prince of Wales, have given leave, on the date of this letter, to William Jauderel, one of our archers, to go to England.

Some of the Cheshire archers were richly rewarded for their skills and were even granted pardons for crimes they had committed, including murder. This led to their notoriety across the rest of England. The troubled King Richard II kept the Cheshiremen as his bodyguard and they guarded his bedchamber all night and on one occasion surrounded the new Westminster Hall during a trial of the king's enemies until the "right" result was reached.

King Richard II intended to leave from Chester for Ireland in 1399 to quell uprisings there. Eighty of the best archers were recruited from the Northwich area and mustered outside the Watergate in Chester to accompany him. However Henry Bolingbroke's return from exile caused Richard to abandon this plan and face Bolingbroke's challenge for the throne.

Richard II was eventually deposed, imprisoned and starved to death, but the Cheshiremen remained loyal and joined the rebellion of 1403 against the new king, Henry IV. The resulting battle at Shrewsbury saw Cheshire archers on both sides.

The battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 was the first occasion where English archers had fought each other. In the 1470s Jean de Waurin wrote of this battle, "the archers drew so fast and thick…that the sun lost its brightness so thick were the arrows".

Some Cheshire archers later fought with Henry V in France in 1415 and 1417, but they no longer enjoyed the same importance as in the previous century. The Cheshire archers formed part of the Lancastrian forces at Blore Heath in 1459, the first battle of the Wars of the Roses, but this time they were on the losing side and Cheshiremen formed the majority of the dead. A tale is told in Cheshire that there was once a song celebrating the archers, but that it was never sung again after the losses at Blore Heath.


As we move through the dark nights of winter and towards a New Year we're looking forward to celebrating with some wassailling.  There is a wonderful variety in the winter traditions known as wassail and we'll be taking part in a good mix of them.

For instance, on the evening of Friday 28th December 2012, Jones' Ale Soul Cakers will be hosting their Winter Wassail at the Cross Keys, Lower Bridge Street in Chester.  It's an evening of winter songs, storytelling, and music as well as performing their folk play dating back to 1788.

Then as dusk falls at 4pm on Saturday 12th January 2013, marking (one of the several dates for) Old New Year, there will be Apple Tree Wassailling at Stretton Watermill near Malpas pouring cider on the roots of the old apple tree, hanging toast in the branches for the birds and making loud noises to drive off the witches and thereby ensure a good harvest in the coming year.  This is all marked with much merriment and mulled cider before heading off for more music at the nearby Carden Arms pub.

On Saturday 19th January 2013 there is perhaps the biggest wassail of the season, the Chepstow Mari Lwyd and Wassail organised by the Widders Morris Men where through the afternoon and evening there will be apple tree wassailing, folk plays, dancing from many morris sides, Mari Lwyd mischief and a ceremonial meeting of the Welsh and English at the middle of the old bridge over the Wye.

So, winter really is a season to get together and celebrate our old traditions.   Wassail!!

Christmas in the Apprentice House

We returned to the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill to help celebrate a Victorian Christmas. 

This is a lovely event to be a part of, as it really feels like you are in the past, with little details everywhere.

There is no electric lighting in the house, just candles and the glow from coal fires, with little daylight at this time of year, but somehow this all adds to the atmosphere.

The stone flagged floor is cold though.  Sue wisely wore clogs, but I could feel the cold seeping up through my leather soled shoes.  At least there wasn't ice on the inside of the windows like we had last year.

Visitors make their way in to the house past the vegetable patch and wash-house,

through the apprentices' school room and dormitories,

past the Doctor's treatment room,

and down into the parlour where I was telling Victorian winter tales and ghost stories for Christmas, with intervals of piping.  For much of the day the room was packed full of people listening to tales of the Apple Tree Man, the Hobyahs, Samuel and the Worm, and the Cow that Ate the Piper.

Then our visitors made their way into the kitchen where Sue was preparing a Christmas pudding as well as letting visitors make their own spice bag for mulled wine.

We heard from the hundreds of visitors that the carols, decorations and jolly Father Christmas up at t'mill building were very good too.  We're back there next Sunday (16th December 2012) to do the whole thing again.  Why not come to join us?